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Winners' Circles (Why Social Network Analysis?)

Published By: John on 01/07/11
Categories: Winners' Circles Consuming Japan Advertising

In this section of the introduction, I talk about how social network analysis became the focus of this project.

My first encounter with social network analysis was in the late 1960s, while still a graduate student at Cornell. I no longer remember precisely whose work I was reading. It does seem likely, however, that it had to do with the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute research in Central Africa directed by J. Clyde Mitchell. Mitchell’s students were all involved, in one way or another, in studies of individuals who had migrated from tribal homelands to cities in search of employment opportunities. In this new setting, their behavior could no longer be attributed solely to the implications of tribal institutions. How they formed ties and interacted with co-workers from other tribes as well as their own had to be considered. According to Lin Freeman’s history of social network analysis, it was Mitchell who recognized that a series of studies on superficially different topics shared this structural core (Freeman, 2004:4).

At this point, however, I was unaware of social psychologist Jacob Moreno’s work in the early 1930s on small group dynamics and his invention of Sociometry, the identification of social stars and later key opinion leaders whose interest becomes the tipping point at which new trends take off. I was also unaware of developments in graph theory, the branch of mathematics on which network analysis tools are based. As I then imgined it, social network analysis was, in effect, synonymous with the study of what sociologists call “informal organization,” social relationships that escape the boundaries of formal organizational structures. It may have been some notion of the importance of informal relationships that led to my seeing Chinese ritual as more about establishing and manipulating relationships than simply affirming corporate group or territorial boundaries. At this stage, however, my use of the concept of social network analysis was only metaphorical. It was neither empirically grounded nor solidly quantified.

In any case, interest in social network analysis receded into the background and became a path not taken until 2007, when casting about for a new research project, I noticed that, while teaching a seminar on the making and meaning of advertising at Sophia University, I had acquired a small collection of recent volumes of the TCC?L???R?s?[?N?? (TCC koukokukopii nenkan, Tokyo Copywriters Club Advertising Copy Annual). The annual, published every year since 1963, contains the output from the club’s annual ad contest. Every year, several thousand pieces of advertising are submitted as entries to the contest. About ten percent of the entries make it into the annual, divided into roughly a dozen industrial categories (the exact number of categories has changed a bit over the years). Each and every ad in the annual comes with a set of credits that list not only the medium in which the ad appeared, its sponsor and the agency and/or production houses that paid for and produced the ad but also the names of the individuals who made up the team that created the ad and the roles for which they are given credits. It occurred to me that if the credits were put in a database, I could use social network analysis to see which individuals worked together in winning teams, identify key figures and trace their careers over time.  I could also map how how their relationships changed over time and explore how these changes reflected the development and overall structure of the industry. I would have a solid framework on which to hang historical and ethnographic data.

Thus it was that an overall plan for the project took shape. It would start by creating a database for the credits data,  studying social network analysis and learning available software. Meanwhile, on a separate track, loomed another task. The key figures in the networks examined in this are often authors in their own right. They have written or contributed chapters to books in which they expound their views of how advertising works, what makes a good idea, what goes into a good presentation, how the work should be produced, team-building or leadership. They are also frequently interviewed in an active trade press, asked to comment on current topics of interest to the industry. The publications in question produce hundreds of pages each month and are available in series that go back for half a century or more.  For this part of the task, the anthropologist would have to be an historian and had a lot of work to do. Finally, there was the holy grail. Having done the social network and historical analysis, the ethnographer might be able to interview some of the people in question, to hear what they had to say, to correct or add to his findings.

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